Untangling the knotted weeds of Sam Maguire qualification 

Who are the most probable qualifiers for the All-Ireland championship as things stand? 
Untangling the knotted weeds of Sam Maguire qualification 

The Sam Maguire cup with the Kerry and Galway jerseys at Croke Park. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Understanding the labyrinthine qualification system for the Sam Maguire Cup is onerous. Here’s an explainer that hopefully sheds light on some of its complexities:

So, who right now has qualified for the 16-team Sam Maguire Cup?

Three – Division 1 leaders Mayo, who will be at worse third seeds by virtue of finishing in the top four in Division 1, Galway and 2022 Tailteann Cup winners Westmeath.

Who else can be certain of Sam Maguire Cup football after this weekend?

Nine or 10 teams. Westmeath plus the eight Division 1 teams as of the end of play on Sunday, which will include promoted Derry and one of Dublin and Louth. The second team to be relegated from Division 1 (seventh place) may also be guaranteed a place depending on other factors. 

So just nine or 10?

Yes. In Connacht, one Division 3 or 4 team or New York is already guaranteed a spot due to the nature of the draw that took place last October. As highly unlikely as it is, it is possible that the Leinster, Munster and Ulster finals might not involve any Division 1 team or Westmeath, potentially seven teams in total. Should Roscommon stay in Division 1 and bearing in mind they’re drawn on the same side of Connacht as Galway and Mayo, that will free up a league qualifying place this weekend.

Less of the hard case guff – what’s most probable?

Both demoted Division 1 counties should make the cut as well as the third and fourth-place finishers in Division 2. Those counties finishing in fifth and sixth in Division 2 are at risk of missing out.


Because there are 14 places up for grabs from the top two divisions after Westmeath’s Tailteann Cup victory and the Connacht draw are accounted for. That number will reduce if a Division 3 or 4 team other than Westmeath reaches the Leinster, Munster or Ulster finals. That team would take one of the league qualifying places. Hence why Cork, who are currently fourth in Division 2, will dearly want to hold onto their place by bettering Meath’s result against Kildare when they face Derry in Páirc Uí Chaoimh this Sunday.

Explain the seedings to me.

The eight provincial finalists are first and second seeds depending on how those deciders go. The next best league finishers take the four third-seed slots with the three others and Westmeath taking the fourth-seed places. The groups will be determined by a later draw.

Can Westmeath upgrade their seeding?

Yes. A provincial final appearance supersedes league seeding. Were Westmeath to make the Leinster final, that would free up a Sam Maguire Cup berth for a league finisher.

Can a Division 3 or 4 team really make a Leinster, Munster or Ulster final?

Along with Down, Cavan are on the weaker side of the draw in Ulster and they might not need Westmeath’s help. Beat Cork in Ennis on April 9 and Clare will certainly believe so, and Limerick await the winners, while Offaly and Westmeath will have ambitions on the opposite side to Dublin in Leinster.

Run that Connacht situation by me again.

Leitrim, London, New York or Sligo are all on the same side of the western draw and thus the winning semi-finalist will earn a Sam Maguire Cup qualifier group.

And how do the provinces match in the Sam Maguire Cup?

The Munster winners will go into a group with the Connacht runners-up and vice-versa and Leinster and Ulster accordingly. In all four groups, the provincial finalists have home advantage in their first game followed by an away game against a league qualifier (fourth seeds against first seeds, third seeds against second seeds) before they face one another in the final round at a neutral venue. The All-Ireland semi-finals are not predetermined by provincial matches but the avoidance of repeat pairings where possible.

Pray tell, when will the Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cup line-ups be finalised?

April 30 when the last provincial semi-finals are played but the composition of the groups will be organised after the provincial finals. Because their finals take place earlier on May 7, the Connacht-Munster groups commence on May 20/21 followed by the Leinster-Ulster groups on May 27/28.

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